Autism charity celebrates 10th anniversary of awareness cards

A Cheshire charity has celebrated the 10th anniversary of the launch of special ‘Attention Cards’ designed to help people with autism in the community.

Jo Garner launched Cheshire Autism Practical Support (ChAPS) in 2010 because of her own experiences of having two autistic children.

A year later she approached the police and distributed pre-printed ‘Attention Cards’ to people with autism to help raise awareness.

Jo said: “People may see someone behaving in an unusual manner and might be concerned by this; however, this could possibly be because the person is autistic and is very anxious which is causing their unusual behaviour.

“The cards say the person will need the support of an appropriate adult and should be treated as vulnerable.

“The idea behind the attention card is it’s not a get-out-of-jail free card. It’s designed to help people who have been diagnosed with autism to get the support that they need.”

A total of 971 cards have been issued and the initiative has been expanded into Merseyside, with 71 per cent being to adults and 29 per cent to children.

The Steve Morgan Foundation is a long-time supporter of ChAPS and awarded them £103,450 in Community Match Challenge funding last October to equip their new centre and for help covering salary costs.

Jane Harris, Director of Regional Grants at the Steve Morgan Foundation, joined Northwich Mayor Sam Naylor and other dignitaries at the 10 year anniversary celebration.

Explaining how ChAPS came about Jo recalled: “I have two children on the autism spectrum and there was a lack of support and a shortage of services to help my children so I decided I had to do something.”

ChAPS supports families of children with autism or undiagnosed autism and has 28 staff and a team of volunteers.

Jo is now the Managing Director of the charity, which has a membership of over 700 families across Cheshire, Halton and Warrington.

She said: “Our strapline is ‘Inspiring Families to Achieve More’. We help raise awareness of autism and work proactively and positively. We work holistically by offering support to the whole family, rather than just the autistic member to ensure that the family unit works as well as possible.”

Mayor Sam Naylor; Jane Harris, Steve Morgan Foundation; Thomas Case; Sgt Mike Brumskill, Merseyside Police; and Dr Andrew Curran, patron and paediatric neuro biologist consultant.

Explaining how the idea for the attention cards came about she said: “I realised my son Daniel would need support when he was out and about. We approached Cheshire Police and they were very supportive. The cards also include the logo of the police, fire and ambulance service on it.”

Jo said the £103,450 of Community Match Challenge funding received in October had made a huge difference.

ChAPS has been working with the Steve Morgan Foundation for 10 years and started with funding the charity’s first admin member of staff.

“The Community Match Challenge funding gave us reassurance,” she said. “The pandemic has increased problems with mental health and this funding really helped us tackle it.

“We couldn’t have done what we have without the support of the Steve Morgan Foundation.”

Jo said the last 12 months have been a ‘rollercoaster’ after their Autism Centre was flooded 3 months after they moved in.

The building is dubbed The Ark and overlooks the river Weaver, in Northwich, but it was flooded in January 2021.

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